This PRO14 semi-final match at an empty BT Murrayfield started at a fair lick, and as a result there was an expectation of a much more entertaining spectacle than the all Irish encounter of the previous night – even if the audience was restricted to TV viewers.
Duhan Van Der Merwe had the ball 3 times within the first 10 mins – as many as he had had it in the whole of last week’s game – and it was clear that the intention from the home side was to play a more expansive game.
With 12 minutes on the clock Van Der Merwe had yet another big carry which led to Edinburgh pressing the Ulster line. Ulster infringed at the breakdown and with the advantage Van Der Walt tried a cross-field kick which Darcy Graham might have taken had he grown a couple of feet in the last few months.
From the penalty that followed though Edinburgh bravely kicked to the corner, won the lineout and Stuart McInally drove over to score the first try of the game. Van Der Walt was unable to add the two points.
Ulster were next to threaten. Ben Toolis was punished for a no arms tackle and Ulster kicked to the corner. A series of drives ensued and then another penalty was conceded. Chris Dean was the culprit as he failed to move away from the ruck quickly enough. Another line out drive and short distance carries led to a knock on.
After the usual resets, Edinburgh were able to clear their lines. Nic Groom launched the ball into the sky and Jacob Stockdale, being hunted down by Duhan van Der Merwe, knocked on giving Edinburgh a scrum on their own 10 metre line.
Van Der Merwe took the ball up from the scrum but was penalised for not releasing after the tackle and Ulster were again in Edinburgh’s back yard. Van Der Merwe intervened again – it seemed like he was everywhere – and turned the ball over at the ruck that followed the Ulster lineout.
On the right wing Darcy Graham had been a little quieter but showed his worth on one occasion when he tackled a rampaging Jacob Stockdale and also turned the ball over in double quick time.
As the half drew to a close it was Edinburgh in the ascendancy. Blair Kinghorn kicked a penalty for a lineout deep in the Ulster half and with their lineout operating flawlessly at this stage they made a late attack, with Chris Dean almost breaking through and Mark Bennett screaming for the pass which would surely have doubled Edinburgh’s lead. It wasn’t to be, and the half fizzled out without further score.
Half-time: Edinburgh 5-0 Ulster
Ulster emerged for the second half shorn of star scrum-half John Cooney, with Alby Mathewson coming on to replace him. Stockdale was now on the wing (with a brief to marshal Duhan), as Michael Lowry was also on to replace Louis Ludik.
Edinburgh doubled their lead on the 46th minute. Ulster were penalised at a ruck for coming in from the side. The home side kicked to the corner and after a number of phases that took the pack under the posts they broke right and the ball found its way to Darcy Graham who scored in the corner. This time Van Der Walt made no mistake and added the extras to make it Edinburgh 12, Ulster 0.
The perceived wisdom is that you haven’t scored till you deal with the restart but Edinburgh in the shape of Simon Berghan (just on the field) gave away a penalty.
Ulster though coughed up the ball near to the Edinburgh line and Grant Gilchrist, celebrating his 150th appearance threw a risky pass under his own posts. Fortunately Mark Bennett held it and took it all the way up to half-way. If his pass inside to Groom hadn’t been intercepted by Burns, who was tracking back, then another score may have resulted.
A sustained period of Ulster possession ensued and in the 53rd minute they made a good attack down the right wing and Rob Lyttle was able to run in a try under the posts. Billy Burns converted to make it a one score game again.
From the restart Edinburgh retained possession and after around 10 phases the ball was moved left. Hamish Watson, lurking in the centre channel, made the hard yards. It looked like he may have got to the try line himself before being held short but he laid it off inside to Chris Dean who was able to stretch over and score. Van Der Walt kicked the conversion to make the scoreline feel comfortable, in theory.
Ulster weren’t to be shaken off.
Only 4 minutes later the visitors got another score this time through Rob Herring after a maul close to the Edinburgh line. This one couldn’t be converted but they were within range of forcing extra time.
Ulster had their tails up and battered at the Edinburgh line and only stout defence and some knock-ons from the Irish side kept Edinburgh ahead. As the last five minutes approached, Ulster scored another try through their maul. Ian Madigan, on for Billy Burns, kicked the tough conversion to tie the game at 19-19.
The spectre of extra time now loomed but with Ulster in the ascendancy throughout the second half, they now looked the most likely to win it either in regulation or added on time.
And that was exactly what happened. With Ulster passing trhough the hands from the base of a ruck just inside Edinburgh’s half, replacement hooker Mike Willemse stretched out a hand and knocked the ball down.
Referee Frank Murphy correctly called it as a penalty. Up stepped Ian Madigan who stroked it through the upright to give Ulster the lead, and the win, as the clock was already in the red.
FT: Edinburgh 19-22 Ulster
This was a great game and a classic “game of two halves”. In the first Edinburgh bossed the possession and the territory but were out thought and outfought in the second with Ulster taking 73% territory. It felt like much, much more. In the end the team who prided themselves on staying in the fight and second half robustness were beaten at their own game.
SRBlog Man of the Match: If the game had finished at half time then Duhan Van Der Merwe would have been the only choice, but he was anonymous in the second as Ulster just didn’t give up the ball. He wasn’t the only one though, and no one in the Edinburgh side did enough to eclipse what he had done in the first half so I’m still giving it to Duhan.
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson, Sam Grove-White (both SRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn, D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom; R Sutherland, S McInally (captain), W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata.
Substitutes: M Willemse, P Schoeman, S Berghan, A Davidson, C Shiel, N Chamberlain, G Taylor.
Ulster: Jacob Stockdale, Louis Ludik, James Hume, Stuart MClosket, Rob Lyttle, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter, Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee
Substitutes: John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Michael Lowry